Before the days of Spotify and bluetooth connections, portable speakers and Shazam, there came a silly little CD called So Fresh. If you’re between 20-35 years-old and grew up in Australia in the 2000’s, it’s likely that its mention will spark up some long-lost core memory, itching a nerve that’s buried under the weight of adulthood.
It’s why every single person of that age group seems to know every single lyric to “Mr. Brightside” by the Killers, screaming it obscenely on dancefloors, or “Shut Up” by the Black Eyed Peas or “Sk8ter Boy” by Avril Lavigne. It was the definitive guide for kids that hadn’t learned how to develop their own music taste.
Arguably, it was responsible for creating the collective musical palate of 2000’s kids across the nation.
First introduced in the year 2000, the So Fresh CD was a joint venture between Sony, BMG and Universal. It was a quarterly release compiling the top hits from Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring. Because my birthday always fell two weeks after the release of the Autumn edition, that’s what I was gifted, maybe for three or four years in a row. So 2003 Autumn to 2007 was what my music taste almost exclusively consisted of.
My sister - born in Spring - had all those versions for the same reason. They were either kept in a case or in that strange nylon folder that your parents hoarded CDs in. On long road trips we’d take turns singing along to the songs from the lyrics sheet that came inside, filling my parents ears with our tiny, annoying voices until they’d switch it off (“Dad, needs some me time”). It was the reason my Dad bought us SingStar.
I still remember Autumn's 2004 line-up. It started off with Shannon Noll’s “What About Me”, had Kelly Clarkson’s “The Trouble With Love Is” (which I smashed) and ended with Mercury4’s “5 Years From Now” (didn’t like that one).
Surprisingly, the SoFresh CD topped the ARIA Compilation Albums charts (a chart I’m convinced was specifically made for the SoFresh CD), from 2007-2017. Of the SoFresh editions released from 2000-2016, each one has gone platinum. With 2003’s Summer compilation going platinum 6 times. Shout out to “The Ketchup Song” for that success.
When I was a teenager I learned how to use LimeWire, downloading songs onto my shitty little plastic Mp3 player (and yes, I did get infringement notices to the point where my Dad deleted every last scrap of music I had from the computer). I moved away from the SoFresh CD - and CDs in general. It’s sad, but with technological advancements – iPods to iPhone’s and streaming services – it was inevitable.
But that element of nostalgia never fails to draw people on their collective experience: Playlists on spotify (meticulously crafted by users) of SoFresh’s best hits from the early years still rack in thousands of likes. In one particular trip down memory lane, a thread on Reddit is dedicated to the remembrance of the first SoFresh CD ever made.
But SoFresh CDs still exist. Yes, even in 2022, when no one listens to CDs anymore.
The latest addition holds tracks from Lil Nas X, Justin Beiber, The Jonas Brothers (They’re still around?) and Guy Sebastien (Same question). I had a quick look on Ebay and old copies are now being sold as collectors items (I came across a 7 pack for $70).
It seems the CD format could be on its way to acting much like vinyl or the cassette: hocked by left-of-centre bands in an effort to stay underground, selling their singles and albums on outdated formats for the sake of nostalgia. In fact, the other day I noticed one of my favourite bands was doing just that.
And there is some value in trying to stay CD-oriented. In a world of ready-made playlists and accessible music, there’s something nice about leaning into a mix that is hyper-tailored for a specific listening experience. In SoFresh’s case, it’s the experience of a by-gone era, stoking the collective memories of 2000s childhood. It’s unlikely that any generation will have that same experience with music again.
There was truly nothing like the feeling of ripping the film off the plastic case of a SoFresh CD. Outkast and Beyonce’s faces would peek up at you from the top of the album cover, a warning of things to come, and as you pushed it into that mini CD player, anxiously hoping there were no scratches on the disc, the sounds of an entire season would pour over you like rain.
For 8-year-old me it was truly an indescribable experience. Now older, staring at my CD-deprived laptop and phone that connects to everything, I can’t help but yearn for a time when a singular CD was all you needed
For me, that will always be SoFresh.
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